After a month of road trips in front of hostile crowds and tough opponents, the No. 1 USC men’s water polo team finally returned home to face Cal Lutheran and Pacific on Saturday and did what it has done consistently throughout 2012: win handily over a team it was expected to beat.
“We love being at home,” USC coach Jovan Vavic said. “Everything is more comfortable. I thought we played well after the first quarter, the defense and James Clark played excellent. Offensively we were strong the whole game, so I was very happy with that.”
The Trojans’ businesslike menatility is truly something to marvel at. The team is 20-0 this season, and though only a handful of games have been highly contested (top-5 teams such as Stanford, California, and UCLA all have pushed USC to the brink), every other team that has faced USC has been utterly beaten.
“We talk about staying focused a lot, and we understand that it’s important to be prepared,” Vavic said. “Our guys believe in it. You can talk about it all you want, but if you don’t believe in it, then it’s just talk. Our guys realize how every opponent can beat you, so they take care of business, prepare, train hard, and we have great leadership.”
On Saturday, USC started slow, and the first period featured seven goals scored — four for the Trojans and three for Pacific. Pacific actually led 3-2 late in the first before two quick goals by junior driver Stephen Siri and senior driver Tobias Preuss gave the Trojans a lead that they would not relinquish.
“Pacific didn’t do anything that we didn’t expect,” Vavic said. “We made a few careless individual mistakes and let them score a couple of goals. But we did a good job the rest of the game. Excluding the first quarter, our defense was good.”
In the second quarter, USC established its superiority with three straight goals to start the frame. After a Pacific goal on a penalty shot, Preuss assisted on junior two-meter Jeremy Davie’s goal to give the Trojans an 8-4 halftime lead.
The third quarter was much of the same. Led by junior goalie James Clark, who finished with 12 saves, USC’s defense suffocated the Tigers’ attack. Pacific scored on another five-meter penalty shot in the third quarter to make the score 9-5 before the Trojans went on a 4-0 run with goals from Preuss, senior driver Michael Rosenthal, and sophomore driver Marc Vonderweidt. The goal from Preuss gave the senior a hat trick, tying him for the game high with junior driver Kostas Genidounias, who has now scored 36 goals on the season.
“You want to see five guys scoring a goal,” Vavic said. “It’s always good for the team to be balance like that. It’s good for the confidence of each player. You don’t want to see just one or two players scoring and everyone else watching.”
In this latest step toward another championship, the Trojans started slow before exerting their dominance and avoiding an upset.
“Last week, Berkley beat Stanford, then Long Beach went to Berkley and beat them,” Vavic said, citing instances of upsets of top-ranked teams. “Teams are getting upset, and we did not allow that to happen this week.”